Political and social reform

Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives (SC/UA) holds many collections that address political and social reform in the 19th and 20th centuries. For the Civil Rights Movement see African American History; for the Women's suffrage movement see Women's History.

Left: Demonstration against General Rafael Trujillo in front of the Dominican Consulate in New York, 1958 (source: Frances Grant Papers)


New Jersey was the last of the Northern states to abolish slavery, when it passed the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1804. Rutgers Special Collections holds records of two prominent abolitionists. For records documenting slavery in New Jersey see the topic "African American History." 

For information about African Americans preceding and during the Civil War see Struggle Without End: New Jersey and the Civil War Digital Exhibition

John Woolman (1720–1772)

John Woolman of Mount Holly was one of the first Quakers to take a stand against slavery. He also opposed the French and Indian War, urged Quakers not to pay taxes, and advocated the humane treatment of animals. As well as copies of his published writings, Rutgers holds a handwritten manuscript by Woolman in the library.

William Still (1821–1902)

Born in New Jersey, William Still became a leading abolitionist and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. His experiences are recounted in The Underground Railroad (1876), which can be found in the library. Rutgers also holds the correspondence of his much older brother Peter Still, who, born a slave in 1801, raised money to purchase his freedom and that of his wife and children.


In the early twentieth century, people unhappy with the urban, industrial environment and the inequities of capitalism undertook various experiments in alternative modes of living. They asked questions about the value of private property and the drawbacks of government control over education, and tested the viability of new cooperative modes of living and working. SC/UA holds the records of several of these communities,

Free Acres Association, Berkeley Heights and Watching, NJ

The Free Acres Association in Berkeley Heights and Watchung, New Jersey, was founded in 1910 by Bolton Hall (1854-1938), a New York attorney, real estate developer, writer, and social reformer, based on the principles of Henry George. Begun as an isolated, single tax community, it was at first a summer colony with active communal institutions, but later evolved into a distinctive suburban development with shared services, property restrictions and lands held in common.

  • Finding aid: available online. N.B. The collection is stored offsite. Advance notice is required to consult these records.

Modern School, Stelton, New Jersey (1912-1971)

Rutgers holds the records of the Modern School in Piscataway, New Jersey, a democratic school where students kept their own hours, chose what to study, and governed themselves. An integral part of an anarchist community situated near Stelton, New Jersey, the Modern School provided an alternative education (encouraging students' creativity and self-reliance) based on the principles of Spaniard Francisco Ferrer.

New Jersey Homesteads/Roosevelt in Monmouth County

Noted for distinctive architecture and renowned as an artists' colony, Roosevelt, New Jersey, began its existence as a New Deal community of Jewish settlers supported by economic cooperatives in the form of farm operations, a factory, and retail shops.


In the 1960s and early 1970s, the federal government introduced many reform programs designed to alleviate poverty, promote economic equity and security, broaden educational opportunities, expand mass transit options, and to further environmental conservation. 

Harrison A. Williams, Jr. (1919-2001)

New Jersey Senator Harrison Williams played an important role in crafting and securing passage of this legislation, creating many of the government programs that we take for granted today, and others that were less successful.

Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)

U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm of New York was an outspoken advocate for the poor, particularly African-Americans. In 1972 she became the first black major-party candidate and first African-American woman to run for the democratic presidential nomination.

Clifford P. Case (1904-1982)

Representing New Jersey in the U.S. Senate from 1956 to 1979, Clifford Case was a member of an influential group of centrist Republicans who favored a bipartisan foreign policy and supported many of Johnson’s Great Society social reform initiatives.  


Since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings of 1945, the specter of nuclear war became all too real. Rutgers holds the collections of several organizations and individuals who have proposed ways to mitigate this threat through arms control agreements and world peace initiatives.

Orlie Pell (1900-1975)

Orlie Pell was the president of the U.S. Section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and a director of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE). In 1961 she was involved in organizing the Women's Strike for Peace (WSP). 

  • Orlie Pell Papers: contact SC/UA for assistance. Papers are stored off-site, and advance notice required to consult these records. Some of the records are restricted.

Archibald Alexander (1906-1979)

Archibald Alexander, a former high-level employee of the U.S. Army, became a proponent of nuclear disarmament.

World Policy Institute/Institute for World Order

The World Policy Institute and its affiliates sought to create a new model of a peaceful world. Founded in 1961 as the Fund for Education Concerning World Peace through World Law, it merged with the Institute for International Order in 1972 and was renamed Institute for World Order in 1982.

  • Finding aid: contact SC/UA for assistance Papers are stored off-site, and advance notice required to consult these records. Some of the records are restricted.